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should we let Hawaiian birds to their fate....  RSS feed

 
duane hennon
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or use GMO mosquitoes to save them

http://www.businessinsider.com/rescue-hawaiis-birds-with-genetic-engineering-2016-5

A cutting-edge way of killing off mosquitoes might save Hawaii’s birds

Ecologist Eben Paxton, speaking on a cell phone from somewhere in one of Hawaii’s forests, wanted to talk about the scary events happening on the island of Kauai.

The “bird crash,” he calls it.

Hawaii’s fourth-largest island, says Paxton, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, is seeing a sudden, rapid decline in native birds.

The prime suspect is avian malaria. It’s being spread by mosquitoes and it kills rare birds such as the 'i'iwi, a bright red honeycreeper with a curvy Dr. Seuss beak. Surveys carried out on the island’s rugged, roadless interior are finding fewer birds than ever before. Extinction for some species looks imminent.




Now suppose you're a permaculture consultant hired by the Hawaiian government for your recommendation
what would it be? and why?

this is similar to the question of Hippos in Columbia
http://www.permies.com/t/56175/uf/stay

what would your recommendation to the Columbian government be? and why?

I'm not saying there is one right answer to either
but the process of talking through the pros and cons is a good exercise
especially if one wishes to do permaculture professionally

Isn't there a PDC coming up in the great northwest?
some good topics for discussion between songs
while sitting around the fire circle

 
Neil Layton
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I'd advise them to listen to ecologists not in some way linked to the GM industry.

For a start, you may be presenting a false dichotomy: there may be other solutions to the problem, of which I'm not aware.

Secondly, as soon as you apply this kind of technofix, it has other knock-on effects in the ecosystem, some of which are unpredictable. It's likely the mosquito is an important food source for many species, and removing it may have complicated consequences. I like to think I know a bit about ecology, but I know next to nothing about Hawaiian hill ecosystems. There are those who do.

I would also advise them to treat biosecurity more seriously. Apparently, it's not known how avian malaria got to Hawaii, but one likely vector is the house sparrow (Passer domesticus) (see https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2005/3151/report.pdf), which can carry the disease but remain asymptomatic. Humans have introduced over a thousand species to Hawaii, all of which, as far as I know, are thriving elsewhere. Between them (along with the usual other factors of habitat destruction, hunting and so on) they have been involved in the extinctions of around a hundred species that were found nowhere else. I'd be surprised if malaria was the only disease they brought with them. Not all introduced species bring disease - most don't, and most get on fine in the new habitat, but some can become a problem, and those can do colossal damage.

This may also be a case of an attempt at distraction from other issues. It's true that many of Hawaii's birds are under threat, and this is one reason why, but there are other reasons why, including land use changes and those opportunistic species in among the introduced ones.

More broadly, I don't have a major issue with genetic modification per se.
If someone wants to produce insulin in a vat using a genetically modified organism I have no particular issue with that, beyond some book-length issues with technological society more generally.

What I do have a problem with is the uses to which it's being put - to whit, control of the food supply. The golden rice to which Su Ba refers appears to be a Trojan horse for the commercialisation of other GMOs. A more holistic solution to vitamin A deficiency in the developing world would be to help them to return to the cultivation of diverse plants allowing them to grow their own balanced diets instead of cash crops for export - which would be Su's permaculture solution to that problem. Where you find vitamin A deficiency you typically find other forms of malnutrition. Golden rice is not the miracle it's pitched as. With a limited number of crops expressing more vitamins we no longer need crop diversity, which allows more control of more of the food chain by fewer agro-pesticide-corporations.

Beware geeks bearing gifts.

There are plenty of reasons to distrust the GM industry and its apologists. They rely, for instance, on the false conflation of selective breeding and genetic modification, as if the artificial insertion of genes from a completely unrelated organism, with even more unpredictable pliotropic effects than you might find with selective breeding, is the same as you obtain with the selective crossing of two individuals in the same or a very closely related species. Most of the time, most scientists consider false equivalence to be a serious intellectual offence, but this one has been normalised, for reasons I'm not clear on. This bullshit article in what I otherwise typically consider the more reputable end of the popular science market is a case in point: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2079813-farmers-may-have-been-accidentally-making-gmos-for-millennia/

In it they point out that it has been found that grafted plants exchange genetic material at the site of a graft. Closer reading suggests that the cellular processes involved are very similar to those found in sexual recombination. Most people growing such trees will remove such a shoot because it weakens the top growth, and will typically discard it, but this isn't mentioned. In addition, as any grafter knows, grafts will only form between trees of the same genus, often species. You wouldn't even try, for example, to graft an apple on to a plum root stock. You'd be wasting your time. At best, you might, from this process, obtain something between a plum and a cherry: exciting, but not the kind of thing that's unknown in nature. As far as the sources for and the author of this article are concerned, this is the same as grafting a fish onto a tomato and getting some sort of hybrid from it.

The thing is, the debate is characterised by the GM industry as one of whether or not the things are "safe to eat". Now, the fact that they have the FDA in their pockets and the fact that most other world regulatory authorities tend to either follow the FDA or are bullied by the US government into doing so aside (this is part of what the whole TTIP thing is about, along with various other "free trade" agreements), most GM foods most probably are mostly safe to eat. That does not mean they are necessarily a good idea. I've outlined some of the reasons why already.

I read a report recently, written a few years ago, where the authors were looking forward to GM plant foods that express omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are rare in terrestrial organisms, but are linked to health benefits in humans. The problem turns out to be what happens when certain invertebrates consume omega-3 fatty acids: they seem to cause deformities: http://www.theecologist.org/campaigning/2987655/gmo_lobbys_false_claims_to_defend_gm_oilseed_against_deformed_butterfly_findings.html What happens to other organisms fed either the GM organism or another one that ate it is, if course, unknown.

In conclusion, yes, genetic modification has its uses. I'm not convinced it's always wrong, but I do think we need to be very, very vigilant about the way it's used.

[This post also references one presently on probation, which is why it doesn't follow the original post]
 
raven ranson
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It seems to me that all the GMO 'solutions' I've seen are designed to treat a symptom. Like Neil says, these technologies are given to us as a false dichotomy. As I gain more experience in this world, I suspect that nothing in life fits as an either/or option.

I was recently watching a TED Talk about resurrection plants. She was very careful to say that it wasn't the genes they were modifying but the genetic on/off switch which would activate an already present genetic trait. It was deliberately phrased to be just confusing enough to cause uncertainty and therefore encourage us to ask fewer questions... but that's neither here nor there. The point is, they are making (what I call) zombie corn. Corn that can wither and go dormant in a drought, then spring back to life with the first hint of rain. Resurrection plants can go dormant for years, then when exposed to moisture they can regrow their leaves, flower and set seed in just a few hours or couple of days. Amazing stuff... and I admit, I kind of like the idea of zombie corn that can perform the same magic trick.

HOWEVER, I thought to myself, why make zombie corn? It was presented as a way to grow plants in drought-prone conditions like Africa. If you don't like my zombie corn, then you must be pro-starvation. So, maybe not so strongly put, but it was heavily implied. Zombie corn is a treatment for a symptom. It's like putting clove oil on my tooth, one of these days I need to go to the (shudders) dentist. The longer I wait, the worse the problem will get, and the harder the solution. If I wait too long, a tooth infection can easily cause a heart attack... sigh.

If we treat the symptom, it gives us an excuse to not bother with the cause. Zombie corn is one of the coolest things I've ever seen, but it seems unnecessary. Wouldn't it be better to stop the drought? There are examples of areas that have successfully reduced drought to manageable levels, that valley in Africa with the terracing for example. Do this sort of thing on a large scale, get the governments to mandate it if they have to, use permaculture techniques, whatever, but within a decade instead of having drought-blasted fields of zombie corn, maybe we could have areas that have fewer environmental pressures? Maybe if we could get away from stop-gap measures, and actually visit the dentist take the time to discover the actual cause, we could find solutions with more predictable results and GMO stuff can have longer in the testing phase, if it's needed at all.

Getting back to the birds:
I would like to know what's causing the problem that's causing the problem. If I was hired by the government to give recommendations, I would toss the money back because I'm not even remotely qualified to understand the ecosystems there. I haven't spent the years walking the woods, if they have woods, I have no idea, my impression of Hawaii is warmth, a volcano or many, and tourists. This is probably completely wrong, so like I said, I'm not qualified. One needs to understand more about WHY it's happening. Genetic modification is a very powerful tool and one that humanity has no idea what the results are... So my advice would be to read Marry Shelly's Frankenstein (because the book is just so amazing), then go for a walk in the woods and look for a solution for the cause rather than a solution to the symptom.



I want to make it very clear that at this time, I have no moral judgement on GMOs qua GMOs, my concern is the lack of understanding of the unintended consequence. I find the GMO attitude we have in our part of the world is like a little boy playing with a hatchet. Sure it's shiny and he can cut stuff and look cool, it appears very useful, but in the hands of a 5 year old, city boy, with no saftey training and nothing to use it on but the apartment furniture... I don't think leaving him alone with a hatchet is a good idea.
 
duane hennon
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without getting too hung up on GMO's
and back to the heart of the matter
on other threads the discussion was about
abandoning half the Earth to wildlife
without humans, is this one of those places?

the thread is about actual examples

and what about those hippos?
just shoot them
do we introduce lions to control them?
what if some indigenous creature is now thriving
because of the habitat change created by the hippos
do we deny it its chance in the sun?

the point is about what you see as man's role in nature
do we try to fix things
or leave things alone
and let nature sort things out
 
raven ranson
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duane hennon wrote:

without getting too hung up on GMO's
and back to the heart of the matter
on other threads the discussion was about
abandoning half the Earth to wildlife
without humans, is this one of those places?

the thread is about actual examples

and what about those hippos?
just shoot them
do we introduce lions to control them?
what if some indigenous creature is now thriving
because of the habitat change created by the hippos
do we deny it its chance in the sun?

the point is about what you see as man's role in nature
do we try to fix things
or leave things alone
and let nature sort things out


I think it's not that simple.

My view of Man's role in nature? To spend time understanding that he/she/it doesn't understand. Then to spend time in the environment they are seeking to fix/balance/repair/whatever. Discover what the actual cause is, what the problem is, if the perceived problem is actually a problem, then to take the least action necessary to encourage the greatest diversity. If the habitat is already flourishing, then our human interests are best served by leaving it alone (there's something we can learn from it, and maybe a resource we will later depend on).

A lot of these examples presented in this thread are not actually the problem.. they are simply symptoms. If you went to the doctors office because your leg fell off, and the doctor prescribed a new pair of shoes to help with the pain... would you think that's reasonable? Your leg fell off, the least he could do is reattach it, but even that is just repairing the damage. Until you discover why your limbs are falling off at random, then any act to repair the problem is futile, and can easily cause more harm than benefit. If he attaches the leg, then tomorrow your ears might fall off... who knows. Maybe the infection was in the leg that makes body bits fall off at random, or maybe it isn't. We don't know until we actively observe and seek out the cause, instead of applying pretty band-aids with pictures of cartoon characters on it.

I feel it is human hubris to take action without any substantial attempt to understand what the problem actually is.
 
duane hennon
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A lot of these examples presented in this thread are not actually the problem.. they are simply symptoms.



but these are actual situations
as permanculture designers/consultants that is what you deal with

so you would leave both birds and the hippos to work themselves out
without any human intervention?
do we leave things as they are?

what about reintroducing, say, wolves
the wolf has been gone for years and
the ecosystem has evolved without them.
reintroducing wolves would undue that

at one time dinosaurs ruled the world
a disaster,for the dinosaurs, gave
some furry mammals a chance

what if, at that time,
someone had decided to reintroduce
those grand and glorious animals back
to their former glory to the detriment
of the mammals?


 
raven ranson
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duane hennon wrote:

so you would leave both birds and the hippos to work themselves out
without any human intervention?
do we leave things as they are?




Leaving the animals to work themselves out is a possibility. It would depend on the specific situation. The situations presented in these threads are far too complicated for me to simply say yes or no. I haven't studied them yet, I haven't visited the areas.

If I was consulting, my first task would be to see if these situations were actual problems.

An analogy:

Recently, a part of my body stopped being its normal colour. It didn't seem to have any pigmentation at all. It was quite noticeable because this lack of pigment was on a part of me not normally covered by clothing. What's worse, it seemed to be spreading. Is this a problem? If I didn't know hair turned gray as I age, then I would see it as a problem. I know many people who see it as a problem. But buying hair dye doesn't 'fix' the problem, it just delays the symptom. Understanding something about how the body works and changes over time, helps one learn that it isn't a problem at all, it's simply what is happening.

It's not a great analogy. But maybe it shows that what we perceive as problems, and rush to fix, may not be problems at all. Or they might be problems... if for example, I lost pigmentation on a patch of skin, this would be more concerning.


but these are actual situations
as permaculture designers/consultants that is what you deal with


Absolutely. As they say at the beginning of every permaculture book I've read (so far), the first step is to observe. Observation of that specific situation, on the ground observation, is vital to understanding these specific situations.

Permaculture, it seems to me, is about interconnected relationships. I don't see permaculture as a stop-gap, put a plaster on and kiss it better, kind of thing. I see permaculture as seeking deep and permanent solutions, which involves a deep understanding of what (if anything) is actually causing these symptoms to occur. Only then would a permaculturist recommend a course of action, or inaction, depending on the situation.


 
Su Ba
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I don't see any easy answer about saving the Hawaiian endemic bird species, at least an answer that would please everybody. While land use by humans has surely been a contributing factor, the invasives appear to be the death knell.

How to control the mosquitos in vast, remote, and inaccessible regions in a wet, warm climate is a real dilemma. Personally, I can't think of a Permie solution because of inaccessibility. Plus, the mosquito is an invasive that has no historical niche in Hawaiian ecology, thus no natural controls.

Should the endemic species be allowed to go extinct? From a Permie viewpoint, the answer is an easy "no" . Permaculture calls for diversity for a healthy ecology. So what to do? Tough question.

I haven't fully researched the GM mosquito, but from what I've initially read, this GMO aspect is a dead end. It doesn't replicate in nature. While I find crop oriented GMOs to be objectionable, I'm undecided when it comes to these GMO mosquitos. Listening to others' viewpoint may help my thinking processes.
 
R Scott
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It is Jurassic park, nature WILL find a way to reproduce.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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My answer to these sorts of questions is more diversity, and more movement of species...

The lifespan of an Island in the Hawaiian chain is thought to be around tens of millions of years, so I'd expect all species on the islands to become extinct eventually, unless they are moved to the mainland, or to newer islands in the chain.

About 60% of the endemic birds in Hawaii are finches. They exist in small pockets, because they got isolated by geology. They are genetically fragile (highly inbred), because they were derived from small numbers of ancestors, and the populations are small. The finches of the Hawaiian Islands don't have a good track record of moving themselves from island to island. We could do a lot to help out with that... Spread them around to islands and atolls that they don't currently inhabit. They are all cousins, being derived from the ancestral finches that originally came to the islands. Spreading the remaining finches into new habitats, and re-introducing them to their cousins would create the possibility of some inter-species hybridization. That would increase the genetic diversity among the offspring. With more genetic diversity, there would be more opportunities for the finches to find behavior/genetic phenotypes that are more resistant to malaria and other avian diseases.

While I was at it, I would search for near relatives on the mainland, and on other islands, and introduce them to the Hawaiian Islands as well. Especially from areas where the finches have a track record of being resistant to malaria.

The whole idea of species is highly suspect to me. We have a similar situation nearby... After the last ice age, there arose a forest of lodgepole pines that doesn't have red squirrels living in it. Therefore, the finches living there become the primary predator of pine seeds instead of the secondary. Therefore, the pines changed the shape of their cones to more effectively thwart the finches. And the shape of the finches bill changed to more effectively extract the seeds from the more armored pine cones. Scientists call them a separate species. But in essence, they share 99.9% of the same genetics as their cousins in nearby forests. And they are fully cross-fertile. I wouldn't feel bad at all, if birds from different forests inter-bred. The resulting offspring would be more genetically diverse than either parent population. I feel the same about the finches of the Hawaiian Islands... They are small populations, highly susceptible to trouble, because the isolation that made their identity as a separate species possible also contributes to their doom. Small populations are simply not viable in the long term. Too many things can go wrong. Too many matings are occurring between close relatives. We can't undo the malaria, but we might could offer the birds the genetics to help them fend it off.

There is a plant growing near here that came from a foreign land. It's genetic base is very narrow because the entire population was derived from only a few plants. It is widespread, and will never be eradicated. So would it hurt anything to acquire seeds from the parent species in the foreign land, and re-introduce them over here? It would certainly go a long ways towards increasing the genetic diversity of the local plants.

I'm working on doing something similar with tomatoes... They have a very narrow genetic base. Because they went through two founder's effect moves. Once when they left the Andes to go to Mexico, and again when they left Mexico to go to Europe. So I acquired closely related species from the Andes, and am hybridizing them with my domesticated tomatoes, to add diversity back into my tomato population. We could do the same thing for the finches of the Hawaiian Islands. If they can hybridize with each other, are they really separate species?
 
Neil Layton
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Movement of species is what caused the problem in the first place.

Shifting species from one place where they are doing just fine, and allowing them to drive others to extinction reduces biodiversity, not the other way around.
 
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